Invicta Emerging As Cisco's Latest Weapon Against EMC, VCE

Cisco has quietly started customer deployments of a converged infrastructure appliance that uses its Invicta flash storage in place of technology from EMC and NetApp, sources tell CRN.

In a move that could further pit the networking giant against EMC and the VCE alliance, sources said, Cisco is already selling the appliance, which combines Invicta with its Unified Computing System (UCS) server and networking technology.

[Related: EMC And Cisco: Ready To Disrupt IT -- And Each Other? ]

"[This Invicta converged appliance] is out in production," said one solution provider, who did not want to be identified. "It's version one. Customers are buying it."

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The source said the Cisco converged appliance consists of UCS Blade series at the server or compute layer; Cisco routers and switches, including both IP and MDS for Fibre channel Nexus platforms at the networking layer; OpenStack or VMware at the virtualization layer; Cisco UCS Director at the operations management layer; and Invicta all flash storage at the storage layer.

Until now, Cisco has carefully positioned Invicta – which it picked up via its $415 million acquisition of Whiptail last year – as a technology it would bring to market as a performance feature of UCS rather than as a full-on competitor to EMC’s technology.

Another Cisco partner, who did not want to be identified, said Cisco is set to brief partners on the Invicta technology this week, but it was unclear whether the appliance would be part of that discussion. "We have to determine whether it is worth our time and energy to play in the Invicta market," he said. "I'm pumped to finally hear about it."

The partner said he is concerned that Cisco may no longer support Invicta in competitive server environments from the likes of HP and Dell. "It sounds to me like they are doing some pretty draconian things by not allowing Invicta to be used unless it is connected to a UCS compute environment," he said.

Invicta has up until now worked with servers from Cisco competitors like HP and Dell, said the source.

Another Cisco partner, who also requested anonymity, said Cisco is "absolutely" readying an Invicta-powered converged play. "Cisco UCS servers are already built for this," the partner said. "It's just a matter of bundling it the right way and building it."

Last month, investment firm William Blair & Co. reported that Cisco solution providers are already selling Invicta all-flash storage arrays as part of UCS converged arrays, competing against EMC’s XtremeIO and Pure Storage.

"Despite Cisco’s public commentary about not wanting to leverage its Whiptail acquisition (renamed Invicta) as a stand-alone enterprise storage system, our industry contacts indicate that the Cisco salesforce (sic) is enthusiastically selling the all-flash-array as a stand-alone platform and competing directly against vendors such as Pure and EMC/XtremIO in the field," William Blair wrote in the report, viewed by CRN. "Cisco is also bundling the platform with its UCS server line as a converged infrastructure play. Over time, we expect Cisco to attempt to displace both EMC/Vblock and NetApp/Flexpod (sic) deployments with its UCS/Whiptail converged offering as the company aims to address new markets and find growth."

EMC already appears to be seeing competition from Cisco.

C.J. Desai, president of EMC's Emerging Technologies Product Division, last week told analysts during a closed meeting at EMC World that EMC has seen Invicta all-flash arrays positioned in the market as a competitive offering to EMC's own XtremIO all-flash array, wrote Aaron Rakers, an analyst with Stifel Nicolaus Equity Research, in a May 5 research report.

EMC as of press time had yet to respond to a CRN request for more information.

Cisco, for its part, declined a request for comment, citing company policy of not commenting on "rumors or speculation."

NEXT: Invicta Causing Further VCE Friction

It's not clear if Cisco is using Invicta for an appliance that will compete with "hyper-converged" infrastructure startups like Nutanix and SimpliVity, which tend to be lower-end offerings than traditional converged infrastructure solutions like Cisco UCS. EMC last week confirmed it's working on a hyper-converged appliance running VMware software and will release it this year.

Hyper-converged infrastructure technology combines server, storage, networking and virtualization technology in a software-defined stack that runs on industry-standard servers. Like software-defined networking, it's a technology shift that partners say could drive a deeper wedge between VCE stakeholders Cisco, EMC and VMware.

In any event, sources said Cisco's use of Invicta in any sort of converged infrastructure offering is likely to cause further friction in its relationship with EMC and in the VCE alliance. EMC and Cisco's ties have been strained by VMware's $1.2 billion acquisition of software-defined networking startup Nicira in 2012, and by Cisco's acquisition of Whiptail.

Sources told CRN earlier this month that EMC is stepping up its work with switch vendor and Cisco rival Arista Networks. And VMware’s vCloud Hybrid Service also uses Arista switches, according to sources familiar with the matter. VCE partners are telling CRN that the conflict between EMC and Cisco in the channel sales trenches is intensifying, as the vendors race to push their own converged stacks. Cisco developing its own converged appliance with Invicta, they say, would only fuel the fire.

"All these players are still trying to work together, but they are also trying to do their own thing," one VCE partner told CRN. "They are openly attacking each other's business models, but then, at the same time, they pull back a little bit and say [to each other], 'well, we aren't quite in your face.'"

Another VCE partner agreed that Cisco rolling out an Invicta-based converged appliance will further strain its partnerships with companies like EMC and NetApp, but, given vendors' push toward their own converged stacks, it's a move that makes sense for Cisco.

"It's going to have to be like when [Cisco] came out with UCS," the partner said, adding that the launch of UCS "dissolved" Cisco's partnership with HP. "It pissed some people off, but [Cisco] just had to say, 'well, this is where the market is going.'"

Editor News Steve Burke and Senior Editor Joe Kovar contributed to this report.